The Dragon cargo ship, the first commercially owned spacecraft to reach the International Space Station, is making its return trip to Earth. SpaceX designed Dragon for reuse, but NASA wants a new one for each mission.
The first commercially owned and operated cargo craft to reach the station pulled away under its own power shortly before 6 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time after station flight engineers Joe Acaba and Don Petitt used the space station's robotic arm to detatch Dragon and gingerly position it about 30 feet below the orbiting outpost.
From there, the craft's thrusters put additional distance between the two vehicles, sending it beyond the zone where NASA's mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston had joint control over the craft.
IN PICTURES: SpaceX Falcon & Dragon
At 10:51 a.m. EDT, Dragon is scheduled to uses its thrusters for nearly 10 minutes to begin its descent into the atmosphere. On its way down, it will jettison the cylindrical cargo “trunk” it carried up, leaving the conical capsule free to splash down in the Pacific Ocean. Controllers are aiming for a spot some 490 nautical miles southwest of Los Angeles.
A small fleet of recovery vessels will be on hand to retrieve the capsule, which is returning some 1,400 pounds of cargo from the space station.